Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

As vaccine rollout accelerates in Ontario, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) latest report offers solutions to support small businesses during economic recovery.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a cash flow crisis for many entrepreneurs and small business owners across Ontario who represent 98% of all Canadian businesses and contribute close to half the GDP generated by the private sector. Recognizing the critical role of entrepreneurship in Canada’s economic recovery, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and OCC’s latest report – Capital is Key:  Financing Entrepreneurship in Ontario After COVID-19 – offers practical solutions to support small businesses as they fuel Ontario’s economic advantage.  

 

“We know that Ontario’s economic recovery will largely be driven by entrepreneurs engaged in launching and scaling their enterprises,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Even in good times, small business owners encounter challenges at various stages of growth. Real progress can come from redoubling efforts to eliminate barriers and advancing creative solutions to improve access to capital and other resources.”

 

“Entrepreneurial diversity should be recognized as a powerful strategy for Ontario’s economic recovery and long-term prosperity,” said Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Manager, Ontario Chamber of Commerce “Equal opportunities for women, Indigenous, racialized, and other diverse groups in the entrepreneurial ecosystem is necessary for both their own recovery and that of the entire province.  For example, closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship alone could add up to $81 billion to Canada’s GDP.”

 

This latest policy brief identifies 14 policy recommendations to improve financing of entrepreneurship, from loan guarantees to tax incentives, capital market reforms, procurement policies, and more.

 

The report also addresses eight key challenges policymakers must navigate as they look for ways to improve financing options and access to capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses:

  • RISKY BUSINESS: Small businesses (particularly start-ups) are generally riskier to finance than larger ones because they have shorter credit histories, fewer assets, and lower survival rates.
  • SCALE-UP FIRMS: Although Ontario excels at producing start-ups, the province has been less successful at turning high-growth firms into global competitors.
  • DIVERSITY: Barriers to accessing capital are uneven across demographic groups, which limits opportunities for some entrepreneurs and undermines broader social and economic outcomes.
  • DEBT: Despite relatively low interest rates, debt is not always the right solution for small businesses, particularly those with less collateral and/or irregular cash flows. Loans often require personal guarantees, and not all entrepreneurs have sufficient assets to provide as collateral.
  • WORKING CAPITAL: Over the past decade, Canadian businesses have signaled a growing need for external capital to cover day-to-day operating expenses. Working capital is especially important for start-up firms that may lack adequate cash flows to reinvest in their businesses in the first several months. However, in Canada, most government-supported loans and grants are designed for other uses, such as technology adoption.
  • INDUSTRY BIAS: Private equity and venture capital investors tend to have more appetite for sectors that are considered knowledge-intensive, such as information technology and biotechnology. As a result, more traditional brick-and-mortar businesses (such as restaurants and retail stores) may have limited access to equity investments.
  • PANDEMIC PRESSURES: As temporary grant and loan programs expire, many small businesses will need access to new financing or refinancing to grow, restructure, or simply keep their doors open.
  • SUCCESSION: Ontario’s aging population has implications for small business succession. By 2030, the number of seniors aged 65 and over is projected to almost double to 23 percent of Ontario’s population.

Read the report:  https://bit.ly/3vnA0Cf

 

We would like to acknowledge and thank Meridian Credit Union and Innovate Cities for their collaboration on this policy brief.

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Working from home has become the norm for thousands of people since the start of the pandemic and many may wish to continue that practice.

 

However, the question of work location is just one of many items on a growing list of work-related issues that are likely to capture additional attention as more of us are vaccinated lowering the risk of the spread of COVID-19, allowing employers to begin to try to get back to “normal”.

 

“A key issue right now is for employers to review their employment contracts and policies,” urges Melissa Roth, a human resources, labour and employment lawyer at Pavey Law LLP in Cambridge. “It’s a very worthwhile investment.”

 

She says changes in general, with respect to termination provisions, as well as changes brought about since the initial shutdown in March 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have made it imperative for employers to revisit their employment contracts and policies.

 

“At first we didn’t have any plans for this in terms of a structure for what was going to happen when businesses were closed,” she says, referring to the laws that were in place in accordance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) at the time of the first lockdown. “At the end of the day, when you lay off someone you are terminating their position if you do not recall them back to work after a specific period of time.”

 

She says the introduction of the deemed Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) changed that from an ESA perspective, allowing those temporarily laid off under the ESA due to COVID-19 to be classified as being on a job protected leave.

 

“But if you didn’t have that right reserved in your employment contract, then this is still known as a constructive dismissal in the courts,” says Melissa, noting many employers are now facing potential legal claims from employees.

 

As well, the continued ability to work from home, like other aspects of the working relationship, is a function of the individual’s employment contract, job duties and other factors.

 

“You, as an employee might be excited about continuing to work from home and may want to keep doing that but if the employer tells you that you have to come back to work, you likely have to come back,” she says, adding employees, under certain circumstances, may be able to request to continue working remotely based on protected grounds under the Human Rights Code. These requests could centre around disabilities or family issues, such as children being too young to be left at home alone since changes to the Education Act have permitted parents to keep their children out of schools.

 

“There are a lot of factors that play a role in a request to stay home and continue to work from home,” says Melissa, adding if there are no human rights grounds to remain home and it was not written into the contract, there is likely an expected obligation that an employee will return to the workplace. “There’s a lot to consider and the answer is never a black and white issue.”

 

She says some employers already had telecommuting policies in their work contracts because working remotely was already part of their regular business, but that even these policies may need updating.

 

“As an employer, you are going to have to consider if it is essential for your employee working at home to be available during core hours or whether they can make up their time throughout the day,” says Melissa. “In turn, the employee will have to know what the expectations are when working from home.”

 

As well, she says the Occupational Health and Safety Act and WSIB concerns have to be taken into consideration when assessing the possibilities of continuing to work from home.

 

“A person may be working from home and an employer still has certain obligations to take every precaution that’s reasonable under the circumstances for the protection of their worker,” says Melissa. “All of these issues have to be taken into consideration.”

 

She also encourages these considerations be included in the contracts of new hires and in employment policies.

 

Melissa mentioned that employers should turn their minds to other issues such as rapid testing and vaccination policies as they pertain to the workplace.

 

“You should have this in writing,” says Melissa, noting businesses should provide their employees with clear messaging and embrace this time as the opportunity to update their policies and contracts. “I’m just speculating, but the next pandemic is likely not going to take 100 years so let’s be prepared for this to happen.”

 

For more, visit: https://bit.ly/3hnBb0b

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It’s been just over a month since the first batch of rapid antigen screening kits were distributed to Waterloo Region SMEs through a pilot program created in partnership with the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce and Communitech.

 

And since that time, close to 2,000 of these SMEs (under 150 employees) are now offering their workers the opportunity to screen twice a week, with more placing their orders via our ‘www.chambercheck.ca’ (recent winner of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Power of the Pivot Award) site every day as businesses continue to look for ways to navigate their way through this pandemic.

 

The program is now being rolled out provincially and nationally thanks to the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce who are currently working with other Chambers and government leaders to ensure all SMEs have access to this valuable ‘weapon’ in the fight against COVID-19.

 

“In my 20 years with the Chamber, I can’t think of another program in the Chamber Network that has had a much impact on business as this program has had,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “I’m so proud to be the Chamber where it started and was piloted because it gives me confidence in our ability to deliver national programs that are innovative.”

 

He says the need for rapid screening to identify those who are asymptomatic was first noted by members of the BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region) during the early days of the pandemic. The team, which Greg serves on with representatives from the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, Great Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, Communitech and Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation, was formed 13 months ago to assist local businesses address COVID-19-related challenges.

 

“We knew testing and more testing was key when it comes to controlling the spread and understanding its impact on people and the economy,” says Greg, who credits Communitech President and CEO Iain Klugman with procuring the kits from the Federal Government who were distributing them at the provincial level in long-term care facilities and larger essential workplaces only.

 

“They (Province) really didn’t have a mechanism in place to get them out to smaller and medium-sized businesses,” he says, noting the two local Chambers joined forces to assist once the Province approved that screenings could be conducted by non-healthcare providers since the procedure is not as ‘evasive’ as a PCR test. The Abbott Panbio Antigen kits provided through the Chamber program are more than 90% effective.

 

“We knew we were part of a pilot project to determine if this was feasible and acceptable and workable in every jurisdiction in Canada,” says Greg, adding bringing the screening kits directly to workplaces rather than have employees visit a secondary location to be screened, was clearly the best option.

 

He likens the journey to building an airplane during mid-flight.

 

“We kind of built the program in real time, not unlike on what’s happened during the pandemic,” says Greg, adding the Chambers have also developed a ‘playbook’ which is being used as a guide for other Chambers to help them set up their own programs.

 

Locally, orders are placed at www.chambercheck.ca and volunteers prepare the kits for pick‐up at the Cambridge Chamber’s office at 750 Hespeler Rd. A representative from each SME responsible for supervising the self‐screening collection onsite is needed for the initial pick‐up and receives video training to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of the used kits. Each SME is required to electronically submit their screening results and the accumulated data is reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly. If a screen results in a positive for COVID‐19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test at an approved Public Health Collection Site and await further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“This program is not intended for employees working at home,” says Greg, noting Ontario’s current Stay at Home Order clearly indicates even those employed by an essential business, must work from home if they can. “They’re already  safe at home, so they shouldn’t be coming into the workplace.”

 

He says rapid screenings are voluntary and admits that some employees, for personal reasons, may be hesitant to take part.

 

“But you could remind them that it’s not about them, this is about the people who work around them,” says Greg, adding when someone tests negative, they feel more confident and comfortable working around others and being around their own families. “We’ve noticed through this whole process that this has become more of a mental health tool as much as it has become a medical tool.”

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The arrival of a third provincial shutdown could spell even more trouble to the food services sector, which has already been dealt a harsh blow since the pandemic began more than a year ago. 

 

According to a Statistic Canada survey (full survey: https://bit.ly/3t2CvbK) conducted from January to February of this year and released in March, nearly three-fifths (56.6%) of food services and drinking places were already anticipating their profits to drop between January and May of 2021 - even before this latest shutdown - compared to just over two-fifths (41.8%) of all businesses.

Tack these numbers on to the four-fifths (86.5%) of these businesses which already experienced a drop in revenue in 2020 compared to three-fifths (60.5%) of all businesses and it’s easy to see why those in this sector are feeling very frustrated.  

 

For Matt Rolleman, co-owner of Thirteen at the corner of Water and Main streets in Galt, learning to adapt to the roller-coaster of rules contained within the provincial COVID-19 Response Framework has been an ongoing challenge for him and others in the food services sector. 

 

“You don’t really plan for that,” he said, referring to the ‘up and down’ restrictions. “That’s been our biggest disappointment.” 

 

During the first lockdown last year, Matt said like many restaurants he was left with an abundant of product and nowhere to sell it. This included 22 kegs of beer which had been tapped and could no longer be sold.  

 

Like many other restaurant operators, he donated food to those in need in the community and had no choice but to dump the beer. 

 

“Since then, we’ve been more cautious when we bring in products,” he said, noting the introduction of a scaled-down menu which had been slowly increasing after the second lockdown ended in mid-February and Waterloo Region went into the ‘Red Zone’ allowing a maximum of 10 diners inside. 

 

In an interview just prior to this latest shutdown, Matt said he had brought back some additional staff and that a few above-seasonal days resulted in patrons enjoying the outdoors on Thirteen’s patio Main Street. In fact, he’s made an application to increase the restaurant’s patio along the Water Street side of the building.  

 

“Even being open in the modified Red Zone and business was good on the weekend,” he said, noting that patio season really won’t ramp up until the end of June.  

 

Add in takeout sales, something Matt said Thirteen did very little of before COVID-19, and he was seeing sales of up to 40% to 45% on a ‘good day’ of what he would have made prior to the pandemic. 

 

“But from that perspective, our business model wasn’t generated on the idea that we were going to do 50% to 55% less sales,” he said, adding utilizing the various support programs, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, are imperative to small business operators. 

 

“If there were no wage subsidies, we’d probably wouldn’t have re-opened, or we would have just been doing takeout at a very basic level because it just wouldn’t be worth it.” 

 

The survey shows that at their current level of revenue and expenditures, more than half (51.2%) of food services and drinking places are unsure how long they can continue operating. 

 

Fortunately, Matt said owning the building that houses the restaurant has helped but that many others are not in the same boat. 

 

“If I was a restaurant owner that had this much space that I was paying rent for I may have may have packed up my bags and went home for a while,” he said, adding that having cashflow on a busy day is helpful when it comes to paying the bills. 

 

“But the grant program (Small Business Support Grant) is crucial for us when we decide to increase our inventory and want to bring back more staff,” said Matt. 

 

He recommends SMEs like himself utilize as much government support as possible. 

“Just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks,” he said. “If you truly need it to help your business survive, then get at it. We’re all going to be paying it back anyways.” 

 

Matt, who describes himself as a realist, said he remains confident in his business but admits it’s difficult for him and his staff to stay optimistic, especially when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 safety protocols in addition to their regular work duties.  

 

“I think they’re just getting worn down,” he said, adding even seeing the framework return to the ‘Orange’ or ‘Yellow’ zones would boost morale. 

 

“I would love to see the Drayton theatre (Hamilton Family Theatre) open again but am not sure how that’s going to happen. It’s such a vital part of the downtown core just to bring people in.” 

 

But in the meantime, Matt said he finds hope in seeing more people being vaccinated and remains passionate about running his own business, which includes pitching in to help his staff as much as he can. 

 

“You need to go back to your grassroots of what you can do,” he said. “If that means I’m sweeping the floor and washing dishes, that’s life. It’s not necessarily where I saw myself being, but that’s what you do to keep your business alive if you truly believe in your business.” 

 

StatsCan survey at a glance: 

 

  • In 2020 nearly one-fifth (19.4%) of food services and drinking places made 30% or more of their total sales online, more than double the proportion that did in 2019 (9.1%).
  • Over four-fifths (86.5%) of food services and drinking places experienced a decrease in revenue in 2020 compared to three-fifths (60.5%) of all businesses.  
  • A decline in revenue of 40% or more in 2020 was a reality for over two-fifths (42.9%) of food services and drinking places, with those in Quebec (50.9%), Manitoba (47.9%) and Ontario (44.9%) most likely to see this level of loss. 
  • At their current level of revenue and expenditures, over half (51.2%) of food services and drinking places do not know how long they can continue to operate before considering closure or bankruptcy. 
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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber Welcome Focus on Tourism, Small Business, Women, Training, and Local Communities

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce released the following response to the Government of Ontario’s 2021 Budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy.

 

“Ontario’s 2021 Budget means supports for the hardest-hit sectors and communities including right here in Waterloo Region, much needed aid for women who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, and initiatives that will create a strong economic rebound related to tourism, training, and vital infrastructure such as broadband,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Leading up to Budget 2021, the Ontario Chamber Network was calling for policies that mitigate the immediate impacts of the crisis and lay the groundwork for a robust and inclusive economic recovery. Resources need to be focused on those hit hardest by the pandemic, where they will have the greatest impact.

 

“Ontario’s business community welcomes the 2021 Budget, which gives businesses much-needed supports to confront the current health crisis while laying the foundation for a strong and inclusive economic recovery,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC.

 

Some of the things called for in the Ontario Chamber Network pre-Budget Submission included:

  • Targeted support for the hardest-hit sectors and communities;
  • Demand-driven skills programming;
  • Enhanced access to capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs;
  • Bold action on interprovincial trade;
  • Strengthening of municipalities’ fiscal capacity; and
  • A sensible path to getting Ontario’s finances on track post-pandemic.

 

“Women’s fulsome participation in the labour market is a precondition to our economic recovery and future prosperity. We greatly appreciate the new supports for women, as they have been among those disproportionately impacted by the crisis,” said the report’s author Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Analyst of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “A taskforce for inclusive economic growth, further supports for child care, a job training tax credit, relief for the tourism industry, and support for survivors of domestic violence are all welcome initiatives that will help turn the tides on the impacts that were so severe and immediate for women in Ontario. Budget 2021 addresses many of the supports we called for in our recent report, The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.”

 

Some of the measures welcomed by the Ontario Chamber Network in the 2021 Budget are:

 

Support for inclusive growth:

 

  • A taskforce for inclusive economic growth. The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected women, racialized individuals, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and other communities in the province. The new taskforce will examine how to increase women’s participation in the workforce, which will support economic recovery.
  • Temporary Job Training Tax Credit. Studies suggest about half a million jobs are not expected to return in Canada after the pandemic, the majority of which are occupied by women. Financial support for underemployed individuals to access training and reskilling will be particularly important for lower-income workers, new immigrants, and Ontarians living in Indigenous, rural, remote, and northern communities.
  • Child care support. Access to affordable child care is a long-standing issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Enhancing the CARE tax credit for 2021, extending financial support for virtual learning costs, and investing in new child care spots will help ease the burden for Ontario families and allow more women to re-enter the workforce.
  • Supports for women fleeing domestic violence. The increase in domestic violence incidences during the pandemic has forced many women to leave their homes and communities, jeopardizing their safety and livelihood. Support for women in transitional housing and underserved areas will help provide safety for women in vulnerable situations.

 

Supports for business:

 

  • Doubling of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. The grant has helped many organizations survive the crisis thus far and making this an automatic top-up instead of asking businesses to re-apply will reduce the administrative burden on both businesses and government.
  • Additional resources for the Digital Main Street Grant. Many small businesses, particularly in rural and remote regions, have benefited from the supports of this grant to get their business online. Expanding the program will help more businesses digitize and prepare for the economy of tomorrow.
  • Invest Ontario Fund. Additional funding in Invest Ontario over the next four years will be important to create jobs and investment across the province.

 

Support for tourism:

 

  • Tourism and Hospitality Small Business Support Grant. The OCC recently wrote to the Ontario government about how the tourism industry is not eligible for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. This new grant is welcome news for hotels, travel agencies, hunting and fishing camps, and other organizations that did not qualify for the original grant.
  • Local Tourism Tax Credit and Tourism Recovery Program. Many of the chambers of commerce and boards of trade are active in the tourism industries within their local communities. These additional supports will be critical to support a revival of tourism after the pandemic.
  • Support for alcohol producers & local distilleries. Ontario’s vineyards, cideries, and small distillers have been greatly impacted by the pandemic as tourism stalled this year.

 

Support for communities and municipalities:

 

  • Broadband investments. The pandemic has put the spotlight on the digital divide for people and businesses, particularly in remote and rural communities. Additional funding to connect all Ontarians, including businesses, to reliable broadband by 2025 is welcome news. 
  • Regional Opportunities Tax Credit. Additional resources towards this program will allow rural and remote communities to invest in projects that create local jobs and economic growth.
  • Property reassessment for municipalities. Pausing the property tax reassessment gives municipalities and businesses more capacity and time to adjust to the economic uncertainty and challenges caused by the pandemic.
  • Expansion of the Ontario Together Fund. The Ontario Together Fund has successfully leveraged Ontario’s business community to address pandemic-related challenges and support relief efforts.
  • Access to vaccination appointments. The Ontario Chamber Network welcomes support to help seniors and people with disabilities get to their vaccination appointments. The faster the population is inoculated, the sooner we can focus on recovery.
  • Strategic Priorities and Infrastructure Fund. Renovations to local buildings and sports facilities will also be integral to local economic growth and recovery initiatives.

Read the Ontario Chamber of Commerce full pre-Budget submission here.

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Chamber network urges government to address pain points and lay the groundwork for a strong rebound as province grapples with economic fallout of the crisis

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has released its 2021 Ontario pre-Budget submission, which focuses on recovery, growth, and modernization.

 

The submission calls for policies that minimize the impacts of business closures, uplift the sectors and demographics hit hardest by the pandemic, invest in the infrastructure and workforce of the future, and modernize government services to improve outcomes for businesses and residents.

 

 

“With Ontario’s economy expected to enter a period of recovery this year as vaccines are distributed and businesses begin to reopen, resources need to be focused on where they will have the greatest impact,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “In the upcoming budget, we would like to see a focus on reskilling, broadband, and access to capital, which will be necessary for the revival of small business and entrepreneurship as well as an inclusive   economic recovery.”

 

In 2021, Ontario will continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The Cambridge Chamber and OCC’s submission notes the crisis has created new problems and exacerbated pre-existing ones. The impact on people and business has been catastrophic overall, and disproportionate for certain regions, sectors, and demographics.

 

“Resources should be targeted towards the sectors and communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, including industries requiring face-to-face contact, small businesses, municipal governments, as well as women, lower-income, racialized, elderly, new immigrant, and younger Ontarians,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

The recommendations outlined in the submission were developed together with businesses, post-secondary institutions, chambers of commerce, and boards of trade. The submission focuses on mitigating the immediate impacts of the crisis, while laying the groundwork for a robust and sustainable economic recovery.

 

Read our provincial pre-budget submission here: bit.ly/3qYxUqg

 

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(February 5, 2021) – The Chamber Network is looking forward to create a co-ordinated approach to reopening the province’s economy in the wake of the pandemic and calling on the Provincial government to ensure this happens in a balanced fashion.

 

“In the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, it is difficult to think beyond confronting the immediate demands of COVID-19,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.   “However, even as we continue supporting each other today, we must also begin looking over the horizon to ensure businesses are prepared for the province’s reopening and recovery. It is never too early to start planning how our province and economy can emerge stronger while doing everything necessary to avoid further lockdowns.”

 

Each region’s experience differs significantly across the province when it comes to transmission rates, tracking and tracing capacity, and other variables.  The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce have written to the Premier so that when the time comes businesses of all sizes have a predictable and coordinated effort to ensure society reopens in a harmonized fashion that prioritizes individual safety as well as economic stability asking for the following:

 

  • A readiness plan with a focus on sectors and regions hardest hit. It is critical that Ontario’s employers are aware of how reopening will take place step-by-step so they can properly prepare.
  • Advanced notice. Businesses and their employees need sufficient time to prepare to get back to work. 
  • Clear guidelines. Businesses need to clearly understand the rules and how they will be enforced. Inconsistent and unclear public health guidelines cause confusion among businesses, employees, and consumers alike, and make it difficult for individuals to take appropriate action to protect themselves and their communities.
  • Fulsome communication. Educational training via virtual workshops in advance of reopening would equip employers with practical information to help them keep staff and customers safe.
  • Workforce management systems. Employers in Ontario should adopt a scalable digital software tool for routine self-screening and assessment by employees, as part of a comprehensive workforce management system.
  • Rapid testing. Sufficient and timely testing and tracing gets employees back to work quickly, ensuring continued productivity and reduced strain on families.
  • Evidence-based decision making. A strong testing and tracing apparatus ensures the province can accurately assess where and how the virus is spreading, so that efforts to target restrictions can be confidently based on solid data.
  • Continued supports for those who need it most. Finally, continued timely and accessible supports for business will prevent further layoffs, closures, and bankruptcies.
  • Leveraging private sector to support vaccine distribution and deployment. Businesses will be critical in supporting public awareness, logistical capabilities, and best practices.

“As the government explores options to safely re-open the economy, it is worth noting that businesses already adhere to a number of existing health and safety protocols and will do their part to support a safe re-opening. The business community will continue to prove their commitment to safety protocols to protect their worker and customers to keep their doors open,” added Durocher

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The Federal Government has unveiled details of its new commercial rent subsidy program, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS).

 

This new program replaces the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) which by early October has delivered more than $1.8 billion in rent support to more than 130,000 small businesses.

 

The CERS will provide financial support to help businesses, charities and non-profits who’ve suffered a revenue drop due to the pandemic by subsidizing a percentage of their expenses on a sliding scale, up to a maximum of 65% of eligible expenses, until Dec. 19, 2020.

 

Unlike the CECRA, businesses do not require a 70% revenue decline to qualify. Even with a decline of 1%, businesses can still qualify.

 

For example:

 

  • 30% revenue decline;

  • $15,000 monthly rent for office space (before H.S.T.);

  • Calculation of subsidy is 0.8 x 30% = 24%, then 24% x $15,000 = $3,600/month. 

This means for each 1% of revenue decline, you are entitled to a 0.8% rent subsidy.  Once you hit a revenue decline of 50%, the calculation changes to a 1.25% subsidy for each 1% decline in revenue, up to a maximum subsidy of 65%.

 

Also, a top-up CERS subsidy of 25% will be available for companies that are temporarily shut down or “significantly limited” by a mandatory public health order. 

Applications will be made directly to the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) for this subsidy, not through the landlord.

 

Expenses that are eligible for the CERS include commercial rent, property taxes and property insurance (capped at $75,000 per month).  This formula is applicable until Dec. 19, 2020 and retroactive to Sept. 27, 2020. 

 

More details outlining the program between Dec. 20, 2020 and June 2021 are expected to be released towards the end of this year.

 

The CRA is expected to announce shortly when businesses can begin to apply for the CERS.

 

For further details, visit:

www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/11/canada-emergency-rent-subsidy.html

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The release of the province’s Budget 2020 Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover has gained the support of the Chamber of Commerce network and business community.

 

The recent budget lays out $187 billion in expenditures this year to help the province recover from the impact of COVID-19, earmarking cash for healthcare and subsidizing electricity rates for businesses.

 

 

“These are extremely difficult times for businesses, and we understand that there is only so far a provincial government can go,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “I was particularly please with the reduction in electricity, education tax and the increase in the exemption to the employer’s health tax.”

 

Many of these items were called for in a pre-budget submission released last week by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which Cambridge Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Darren Drouillard says the board supported.

 

“Focusing intently on reducing overhead for SMEs through lower utility costs and tax reductions to business and improving IT infrastructure throughout the province, it is evident that the OCC is in touch with the needs of business and has a well thought-out set of recommendations to guide us through the next stage of the pandemic and economic recovery,” he said.

 

The OCC and Cambridge Chamber have long advocated for greater investment in broadband and cellular infrastructure, reforming taxes to enhance business competitiveness, developing new skills training opportunities, and lowering the cost of electricity for industry, all of which are priorities in Budget 2020.

 

“I certainly welcome a reduction for small businesses in the property tax, however, we will need to see how that comes off the page,” said Greg. “Municipalities cannot hold the burden of these reductions when they are unable to run deficits or borrow money for operational losses.”

 

The province is looking at spending $45 billion over the next three years on the crisis, taking into account the $30 billion already announced earlier this year, plus $15 million in new funding over the next two years. The plan also shows a record deficit of $38.5 billion for this year, which is in line with the government’s projections in the summer. A plan to balance the budget is expected in next year’s budget.

 

 “Now is the time to explore innovative partnerships – such as pubic/private partnerships to build our needed rail infrastructure, commissioning, alternative financing, and community and social impact bonds – to share risk and make the most of every dollar spent,” said Greg, noting small businesses are the heart of the community.

 

Darren agrees.

 

“We, as a business community and network of Chambers and Boards of Trade, will continue to overcome through collaboration, innovation and resilience,” he said.

 

Some key measures in Budget 2020 supported by the Ontario business community include:

 

  • Reducing commercial and industrial electricity rates will make Ontario businesses more competitive and enable them to invest in recovery and growth. For years, Ontario businesses have paid more for electricity than most other jurisdictions in North America, and the pandemic has only increased electricity system costs.
  • Business Education Tax rates vary throughout Ontario; as a result, businesses in London, Waterloo, Hamilton, Toronto, Windsor/Middlesex, and Kingston are paying higher taxes than those in other regions. The government has announced it will both reduce the BET rate and address regional variance within that rate, both of which the OCC and its Chamber network have advocated for in the past.
  • The decision to make the higher Employer Health Tax threshold permanent is a welcome one that will free thousands of businesses from having to pay this tax.
  • The move to allow municipalities to target property tax relief specifically to small business is a creative and important tool to grant communities, given that small business has been hardest hit by the pandemic.
  • Broadband is a basic infrastructure requirement in today’s economy, but the ongoing pandemic has made it even more essential to public health and economic resilience. The Chamber network is very pleased to see the government take this seriously with an additional investment of $680 million (for a total of nearly $1 billion) over six years.

 

For a look at the budget, visit: occ.ca/rapidpolicy/2020-provincial-budget

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Small business keeps the Canadian economy healthy, but the continued effects of COVID-19 have left many SMEs on life support at a time when we need them the most.

 

“Never has there been a time that is more important to shop locally and spend locally, and support your friends, family and your community by buying from a local small business,” says Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Despite a strong local economy thanks to a number of larger industrial businesses and manufacturers, he says at least 70% of our local workforce is employed by SMEs.

 

“They employee most of the people who live in the community,” says Durocher. “So, it’s vital for us to make sure we do whatever we can to help small business.”

 

He is hopeful the federal government’s revamped COVID-19 relief programs which aim to steer $2.2 billion into the pockets of commercial tenants and the extension of the wage subsidy that should cover 65% of eligible costs for business owners through December, will provide some assistance.

 

“The problem is that the big gears in government turn very slowly,” he says, adding processes that normally could take months or even years are being put in place in a matter of days. “That bucks against the system and it makes it difficult for government to do that because they like to analyze everything before they send it out the door.”

 

Durocher says the original and much criticized CECRA (Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program) is as an example of an initiative that needed serious fine tuning.

 

“They rushed stuff out putting in legislation, which to some degree protected the government, and then found no one qualifies for it because of those protections,” he says. According to a CBC report, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CIFB) estimates that 47% of small business tenants who needed help with rent couldn’t access the $3 billion budget set back in April, and that as of early October approximately $1.8 billion of that budget had been spent.

 

“We’re (Chamber network) cautiously optimistic at this point the new commercial rent assistance program is going to be better and appeal to more small businesses, or include more small businesses in the equation,” says Durocher, adding the Chamber network has been encouraging Canada’s Minister of Small Business Mary Ng and the finance ministry to roll it out soon so they can review the regulations.

“They’re (federal government) trying to make key changes necessary to make the program more responsive to small business owners, so I think they’re trying to move it along fairly quickly.”

 

He expects the new program will appeal to more small business owners because it will take the onus off the landlords, many of whom were also facing heavy financial burdens under CECRA, and will feature a ‘sliding scale’ that will give businesses who’ve seen a 70% drop in revenues up to 65% of rent coverage.

 

Besides rent relief, Durocher says the extension of a revamped wage subsidy program until June 2021 is also a positive move since our economy is facing some ‘sluggish’ months ahead.

 

“The wage subsidy is going to be very important moving forward, however, the criteria around the new program is that it’s variable so depending on what your revenue has dropped by will determine the amount of subsidy you’ll receive,” he says. “The new program really takes into account those businesses that have reopened and are getting more of their revenue back.”

 

As well, Durocher says the revamped CEBA (Canadian Emergency Business Account) program, which will now provide interest-free loans of up to $20,000, on top of the original $40,000, can also provide much-needed relief for small business owners.

“I think it’s a really important part of the puzzle,” he says. “It’s not that a small business needs, wants, or should accumulate debt, but these are extraordinary circumstances. The important thing will be how do you find a path to ensure ‘my business’ comes out of this pandemic.”

 

Unlike larger businesses, Durocher says SMEs do not have the luxury of being controlled by the global status of the economy.

 

“They can only survive, or fail, based on the local economy,” he says. “What we all know is that we’re sick and tired of the pandemic, but the virus isn’t tired of making us sick.”

 

Impact of COVID-19 on SMEs – (StatsCan and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce)

  • 68% saw revenue decrease by 10% or more
  • 22% unable to stay fully or partially open during the pandemic
  • 25% can’t stay open more than three months
  • 1.2 million SMEs in Canada (426,490 in Ontario) as of December 2017
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